Joplin aims to reload on defense in 2022

JOPLIN, Mo. – The Joplin Eagles are in the middle of their first week of football practice.

On defense, the Eagles will have plenty of new faces on the field this fall – after graduating 9 of 11 starters from last year’s team.

“The good thing is the two guys we have back are a 1st team All-State kid in Draven VanGilder and Johnny Williams, who is right there with him,” says head coach Curtis Jasper on the defense, “They’re at that linebacker level so they can quarterback the defense. The nice thing is, being in class 6 and having good numbers, hopefully we reload and not rebuild on that side of the ball.”

“Honestly, I really do think we have some guys who can fill those roles from last year,” says defensive lineman Luke Gunn, “I know there were four senior starters who left on the defensive line. They’re big shoes to fill, but a lot of us who were juniors last year are trying to fill those holes.”

“We know there will still be some growing pains along the way, but hopefully we can mitigate those as much as possible,” Jasper adds.

On the offensive side, the Eagles return All-State offensive lineman Dontrell Holt – as well as a two-headed monster in the backfield, featuring Quin Renfro and Drew VanGilder.

Renfro rushed for 754 yards and 8 touchdowns last season, while VanGilder posted 577 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The Eagles will have a new quarterback this fall. Junior Hobbs Gooch will lead the Joplin offense this fall after the graduation of Always Wright.

“His work ethic is fantastic. His coachability is great. He got that start in districts last year and was able to lead us to a big win,” Jasper says of Gooch, “We’re really excited about where he’s at at this point in time. We understand he’s still got work to do, and he understands that and he’s here every day putting in that work and building those leadership skills. He understands what it takes to lead this offense. He had a good one to study under last year, so you know…he understands.”

Check out more from Joplin in our Pigskin Preview – which will be released Wednesday night at 6:30 PM on koamnewsnow.com.


Joplin’s Wright announces decision to play basketball at NEO

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin High School standout Always Wright announced his college decision on Tuesday night.

Wright has opted to commit to NEO and play basketball for the Golden Norsemen next season.

“NEO has been there from the beginning. They’ve been recruiting me for a year and a half now. I felt like my loyalty kind of stuck with them. They have great coaches and great facilities and a great family atmosphere, so those things stuck out to me,” Wright says of choosing NEO, “I’m a full qualifier, so my plan is to stay there for one year and then leave. They set out the plan and the personal development for me, so I have full faith that they’re going to get me to being the player I want to be.”

Wright is a 3X All-COC player for the Eagles on the basketball court, including being a 1st team All-COC selection this year as a senior.

“It helped a lot, playing against some of the best,” Wright says of playing in the COC, “We played against the state runner-up, and I got to learn some different pieces from different peoples’ games. Having Charlie Brown as an assistant coach also helped a lot. I picked up some pieces from his game and was able to expand my game.”

Wright will remain close to home playing in Miami, Oklahoma – giving him the opportunity to watch his brother, All, play next year at Joplin High School.

All is heading into his junior season for the Eagles, and is already receiving offers to play in college – leaving open the possibility that the brothers may be teammates again sometime down the road.

“We’ve talked about it. We definitely want to do it…take over a college town, that would be fun,” Always says, “Just to play with him one more time before we really separate, it would be great.”


Local baseball players earn Missouri All-State honors

The Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association has released its All-State honors for the 2022 season.

The below local players have earned All-State recognition.

Class 6

OF Kyler Stokes (Joplin) 2nd team

Class 5

P Levi Helm (McDonald County) – 1st team

C Cole Martin (McDonald County) – 1st team

INF Cy Darnell (Webb City) – 2nd team

Class 4

INF Jaesik Friggle (Aurora) – 1st team

OF Case Sanderson (Nevada) – 1st team

P Trey Mulholland (Aurora) – 1st team

C Cade Beshore (Nevada) – 2nd team

OF Aaron Fisher (Aurora) – Honorable Mention

UT Hayze Hoffman (Aurora) – Honorable Mention

Class 3

OF Mason Gastel (Lamar) – Honorable Mention

Class 2

INF Ezequiel Garcia (Purdy) – 2nd team

OF Travis Hughes (Purdy) – 2nd team

Class 1

INF Justin Payne (Liberal) – Honorable Mention

OF Payton Morrow (Liberal) – 2nd team


Long-time friends Fowler, Watkins win state titles; lead Joplin to 2nd place finish

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin High School seniors Donovyn Fowler and Donovahn Watkins have known each other since before they put on the JHS uniform for the first time.

“I’ve known Donovahn since our elementary school days,” Fowler says, “We’ve played football together for a long time now, and switching over to track…we’ve also bonded doing that.”

The two finished their high school track and field careers together with a bang over the weekend – each claiming individual state titles at the MSHSAA State Championships in Jefferson City..

Fowler, an Oklahoma University commit, won individual championships in the triple jump and long jump, while Watkins claimed the state title in shot put.

“It was definitely an awesome experience,” Watkins says of winning state championships alongside Fowler, “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s an amazing athlete who is going to do great things in the future. It was awesome to watch.”

“It feels great,” Fowler adds, “We were actually hotel roommates, so we would have deep conversations about college and stuff like that. I’m really happy to call him my friend and I’m really happy to see him get first place and that state championship.”

Fowler picked up his first of two individual titles on Friday with his win in triple jump, posting a mark of 49 feet, 8.25 inches. He added another championship in long jump the following day, posting a winning mark of 25 feet, 3.25 inches – breaking his own school record and capping off a perfect season in both events.

His winning mark in the long jump came on his final attempt in a Joplin uniform, when he was sitting in second place with his perfect season on the line.

“It definitely felt like a far jump,” Fowler says, “I just had kind of…anger and aggression to get to first. I wanted to finish both (long and triple jump) seasons undefeated. I did it, and I’m really proud of that. It was just a different mindset when I was going down the runway.”

Watkins earned the shot put state championship on Saturday, with a best toss of 61 feet, 11.5 inches.

“It was definitely really cool. It took a lot of hard work to get to where I wanted to be,” Watkins says, “Throughout the season, I don’t think I did as good as I wanted to do. Throughout the spring I definitely got better, working technique and hitting the weight room. I just wanted to get better.”

He was motivated to get to the top of the podium after a 4th-place finish at state a year ago.

“I remember thinking about wanting to get to the top after last year. I definitely had a chip on my shoulder the whole time,” Watkins says, “I was talking to the guy who got first place last year, and I told him that he drove me to be better this time. I told him he was the reason I threw it as far as I did. I wasn’t going to be beat that day.”

Watkins, who is committed to play football at Coffeyville CC in southeast Kansas, was more than a foot better than the rest of the field Saturday – with his best toss coming on his third attempt.

“I definitely could feel adrenaline going and feel some anger come out,” Watkins says of his winning throw, “I definitely flexed on them and stared them down after I threw it,” he adds with a laugh, “I just love to compete, so it was just awesome.”

Fowler and Watkins led the Joplin boys to a 2nd place finish at state in their final act as Joplin teammates – the Eagles’ best finish as a team in more than 40 years.

“It definitely feels great. It’s kind of sad, because you spend all this time getting to know all of these people – and as soon as you hit your peak, everybody has to go their separate ways,” Fowler finishes, “It was really just a special moment for all of us, seeing all the hard work that we’ve put in over the season really pay off at state.”



Harrington homers, Republic ends Joplin’s season in district quarterfinals

JOPLIN, Mo. – The Republic Tigers topped the Joplin Eagles 5-0 in the Class 6 District 6 quarterfinals on Monday afternoon.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to swing it a little better to give ourselves a chance,” says Joplin head coach Kyle Wolf, “I thought we competed on the mound. I thought we did some things defensively that were good. When you’re struggling to score runs it’s hard to get any energy and any mojo going. Credit to their kid on the mound. He kept us off-balance and never really gave us a chance to feel really good about anything in the box.”

The loss ends Joplin’s season with a 14-15 overall record.

“It’s hard right now and it’s easy to think back on losing your last game. The reality is, that happens to everybody in the state except for one,” Wolf says, “I think there’s a lot more to this game than that. We had some great times this year. We had some really big wins and a lot of fun at times. I told them let it hurt for a while, but give yourself a couple days and think back to all those fun things that happened throughout the course of the year, too.”


Carlson, Talbot sign at Joplin High School

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin High School seniors Bodee Carlson and Kayla Talbot signed on Friday afternoon to continue their careers in college.

Carlson will play baseball at Mid-America Nazarene, while Talbot signs to play soccer at Crowder College in Neosho.

Crowder is close to home. I didn’t really want to go very far, and they have what I wanted to do academically. I thought it was a great opportunity to stay home and go to the school that I wanted to go to,” Talbot says, “When he reached out to me, I was very nervous and very excited at the same time. I tried not to cry when I got the opportunity and when he talked to me,” she adds of speaking to Crowder head coach Jason Bond, “I was very excited and very grateful for the opportunity.”

“I’ve wanted to play college baseball since I was 6 years old, so this is a dream come true for me,” Carlson says, “They just seemed like they were really honest with me and up front about what next year would look like. I really appreciate that. It just felt like a really good fit,” Carlson adds, “Right now I’m just trying to be the best that I can be and give myself the best opportunity. I have some older guys who are ahead of me right now, but I’m just trying to work hard to make the best of the opportunities that I do get.”


Joplin tabs Schneider to lead softball program

JOPLIN, Mo. – Joplin has named Brenden Schneider the school’s next head softball coach.

“This is my home. I’ve been here for five years…and I’ve grown to love the place,” Schneider says, “This was kind of one of those things that when it came open I had to jump at it. I was very excited and thankfully I was picked for the job.”

Schneider has been with the school for the last five seasons.

He’s served as an assistant coach for the baseball program for all five years – but he’s no stranger to the Joplin softball program.

Schneider has also served as an assistant softball coach for Joplin in three of those five years.

“I fell in love with the game watching my wife play in college,” Schneider says of returning to the softball diamond, “My first job at Kickapoo I got because of softball. I love the speed of the game and the way it’s played. You’re in a small, confined space. I enjoy it so much. As a pitching guy, I love all the different pitches you can throw. Everything you see in the game is so unique, but the speed of the game is really what drew me to softball.”

He takes over for Manny Flores, who led the Eagles to their first winning season in six years last fall.

“He did such a great job here,” Schneider says of coach Flores, “I just want to thank coach Flores for everything that he’s done. I think it shouldn’t be understated the things he has done and the time he’s put into the program the last few years. As a former assistant of his, everything he has taught me has helped me get to this point. Between him and (Joplin baseball head coach) Kyle Wolf, they’ve really been great mentors for me. I’m really happy I’m able to step in as a head coach peer with coach Wolf and coach Flores and continue a really good legacy of Joplin softball.”

As for his philosophy heading into his first year leading the Joplin softball program.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Schneider finishes, “Every year I’ve been here, the program has improved. We’re just trying to have fun and play hard and do things the right way. We’re going to continue to move this program forward…with good team chemistry and hard work.”

Schneider says he will continue to serve as an assistant baseball coach for the Eagles.


Pittsburg’s Rhodes walks it off against Joplin in extras

WATCH: Cooper Hayden ties the game with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh. Ethan Rhodes gets a shallow hit to center to score Grant O’Doherty from first. Pittsburg walks it off in the ninth inning 2-1 over Joplin.